UT | Member Since 2009
First published in 1869 by French author Jules Verne (whom received writing advice from both Hugo and Dumas). Some scholars say that Jules Verne fathered science fiction, others say he introduced steampunk; many people's only knowledge of Jules Verne comes from the Disney movie adaptations of Verne's novels. Which may not be a bad thing, (they made the jump to screen wonderfully...gosh, didn't we love the big crabs and squids, the hot-air balloons, the volcanoes, and the ocean and sun in the middle of the earth?) but it is hardly the same thing as experiencing the true tone of his books; dated, but still sparkling with imagination that is entertaining reading.
Verne intended this book to be more science-that-was-fiction -- than Disney's fiction-that-tried-to-be-science. Because the screenwriters thought the book had no real plot, they took only the big events from the book, and created the mad scientist version of a vengeful and political Nemo, and fit Verne's work nicely into the political framework of 1954 -- that's primetime Cold War years. 20,000 Leagues-the book, has the cannibals, the burial at sea, and the big squid, but a lot more scienctific theories, psychology of relationships, and the examination of the social changes of Verne's time. Most notably different was Nemo himself; less an angry *rebel without a cause* and more a genius with a deep respect for nature that caused him great angst concerning his relationship with man. There is a lot of cataloging, as mentioned by reviewers: species, genus, longitudes and latitudes, artwork and decor on board. The plot is non-linear other than beginning when the shipwrecked survivor's are picked up and continuing until the end of the journey--20,000 leagues later. The voyage and the events serve more to reveal the characters', especially Nemo's, Professor Arronax's, and the whale hunter Ned Land's, philosophies (not so much man-servant's Conseil). A great cross-section of social heirarchy wouldn't you say? (Around during both Freud and Jung's time, I'd have loved to read their reviews on Captain Nemo!)
These factors, and any comparison to the movie, might make this choice a little tiring for some that want more Buena Vista-type action and plot. It's an interesting journey to be sure, and even with such a different focus, it's still hard to get Disney's depiction out of your mind as you listen. James Frain does a good job narrating and playing each character, and is able to keep the story going even through the lists of mollusks and menus. Another recording I sampled was flatly read and not as engaging. A nice trip back to the future.
Haven't most of us yearned for our own great story; something we could reflect back on and tell to our children, be called upon to tell around a campfire, or just possibly write into a best-seller? We've all got a few chapters worth of events -- most of mine just embarrassing ego-boosters at this stage in life that aren't worth more than a few seconds of entertainment; nothing as worthy a story as the time my grandmother, as a little girl, had to go out into a dark and stormy night in her nightgown, the howls of the coyotes getting closer and closer, to lock the flapping door of the chicken coop. At least that's the most requested tale around here from my own kids. They don't care that I killed a rattlesnake, sat in on the Rorschach test of an infamous murderer, did a commercial where I rode a white horse pitching men's cologne or sat in that car while Ricardo what's-his-name pointed out the "rich Corinthian leather." ..."so what happened to the chicken's that got out?!" Intrigued.
There's a great story and great story telling. Comparisons of this, Scotton's debut novel, have been made with two great stories by two great story tellers: Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Formidable and extravagant comparisons, but TSWotE will bring to mind the feel of those stories and those author's abilities to spin a yarn. The writing is well done, it is rich and descriptive, the characters are individuals you care about, and there is that charm you feel when you can nestle into a book and want to stay there. Scotton might not be on that Twain/Lee level yet--but for a debut, this is a tremendous accomplishment. He is following is some mighty tracks with his first story..
Kevin Gillooly reflects back over the years to a turning point that changed the direction of his life and shaped the history of the small mining town of Medgar, Kentucky. Taking the reader to the relatively foreign Appalachian Mountains in 1985, he tells a multi-layered coming of age story that began with an horrific event that shattered his family. An accident kills Kevin's 3 yr. old brother while he and his mother watch helplessly. Grief stricken, the mother withdraws into a catatonic state, Kevin blames himself, the father blames Kevin. The maternal grandfather is that stalwart and principled character that steps in and enfolds this broken family -- he suggests the mother and Kevin spend the summer at his home where the mother was raised, in Medgar, Kentucky, tucked into the grandfather's beloved Appalachian Mountains. Pops, the local veterinarian and respected member of the town can help with Kevin while the mother heals.
Kevin is rescued from his own pain by the friendship of local *holler* boy Buzzy Fink, a truly colorful character that is a creature of the mountains. With a deep respect for the mountains, Buzzy teaches the clueless *city boy* the ways of the hills, the superstitions, legends, the medicines found in the earth (securing a slug around a spider bite), the habits of the animals, and the characters to watch out for. As Kevin's knowledge grows under Buzzy's tutelage, his respect for the land grows and the trauma and pain he carries begin to fade. His new found interests open a connection and a closeness with Pops.
As Kevin's story moves towards an environmental vein, Scotton raises the stakes from spider bites to murder, and small town disagreements to hate crimes. Local mine owner Bubba Boyd is buying up land, strong-arming the *holler folks* to sell out so he can abandoned traditional mining for Mountaintop Removal Mining -- a process that blasts the tops off the mountains for quicker and easier access to the coal. The scarred mountains have deformed much of the once pristine country, and the hazardous bi-products are affecting the health of the people, most of whom are employed by Bubba. As the effects become more glaring, an opposition forms headed by Peter Pierce, the town's much-loved gay hairdresser -- his sexual preference isn't talked about, the townsfolk just gossip a little about his male *roommate* without speculation, and appreciate all that Peter does for them through his charitable works. During a meeting to discuss the environmental problem, Bubba shows up uninvited with his henchmen and sets out to discredit Peter's character. It is Pops that comes to Peter's defense and support, reasonably pointing out the concerns. But, Bubba don't give a damn about pretty mountains or "lies" made up about unsafe mining...and he "sure as hell don't want no lying queers living in Medgar." Faced with Pops' popularity and sound reasoning, Bubba knows he can't win a fair fight. Things get ugly, resulting in a brutal and hateful attack by unknown assailants. But in a small town, there are no secrets, and this one has a connection to Buzzy.
Scotton amalgamates a lot of issues into Kevin's story and it does require a stretch to take it all in: the healing of a family, the coming of age, the environment, forgiveness, courage, greed, poverty, secrets, respect -- these are the facets that give the story depth not very common in a debut novel. Then.... Pops goes and takes the boys back into the mountains on a *Quest.* (The lessons learned in Nature are reflected in what is going on in the town and in Kevin's life. ) Be prepared to hit full expansion capacity with that stretch. Here is where I was conflicted, a little out of harmony with the flow of the great story: There's a chimerical White Stag encounter (couldn't help but think 'Expecto patronum!'), a fabled moss-back colossal fish that almost swims onto Kevin's hook, and Buzzy makes a special muddy poultice for a bullet wound that defies all known medicines. Additionally; inordinately naïve Kevin, Bubba, Buzzy, Pops, gay hairdresser Paul Pierce, and assorted mule-shooting hillbilly folk we meet on veterinarian missions back into the mountains, all seem a little out of central casting -- technically these are issues that will bother some readers, and at this point I had to face the fact that the story was a ways from perfect. I removed a few *'s only because it wasn't up to 5* standards. In spite of the obvious points of contention, I enjoyed it like a 5* book -- it was completely absorbing, entertaining, there was emotional depth, and the writing was excellent.
Highly recommend with the above caveats. Here's hoping that Scottson is more prolific than Harper Lee.
*RE: LANGUAGE: Another reviewer mentioned the language, and though I wasn't counting, there were F-bombs. Based on the books I read (mostly main-stream; you can check my review list), I feel it was about average. Nothing gratuitous. It was talk between two 14 yr. old boys, a couple of hillbilly miners and farmers, and for what it's worth, I've heard worse at a baseball game.
From the onslaught of pre-release reviews for this book I was very prepared for the *unreliable narrator,* that tricky little beastie that requires the reader to stay on their toes, but, when our girl Rachel settles onto the train and pops her canned gin and tonic for breakfast, I knew we were in for one helluva ride. In what has been called an *amnesia thriller,* been compared to Hitchcock's Rear Window, and tacked with the ubiquitous "the next Gone Girl" tagline (when will that stop?) author Hawkins gives us one of those always entertaining train-ride thrillers told from the pov of 3 female narrators -- one of whoms story is ala Mary Alice Young in Desperate Housewives, from the grave. Their connection...a man, a neighborhood, and a fateful event.
Not much should be said about the story because it relies heavily on slowly revealing a little more with each clickety-clak of the rails. I'd suggest just settling in and riding along as sad, overweight, unemployed, newly divorced, and barren Rachel rides the train and peers into a certain yard/window of a house that borders the tracks along her journey. Looking out the window of the train at that house, she projects everything she wished for onto a certain willowy blonde she names *Jess,* and her husband. Rachel used to live in the same neighborhood -- now her ex lives in the home with his new wife and baby girl.
Hawkins dishes out the information with a controlling hand, and might rely a little too much on this tactic to keep a sense of tension when more information, fleshing out the characters a little more, could have given the story more psychological depth -- she certainly has created characters with the underpinnings of a great psychological thriller and shows talent as a writer. Maybe I've seen too much Hitchcock, read too many Flynn novels; I didn't find the story really thrilling or mysterious, but that's OK -- it was fun and entertaining, and I flew through it enjoying every minute. I have to say it is a much lighter read than that GG novel (except for the issue of alcoholism, which is especially dark here).
The narrators did a good job keeping the novel moving and interpreting the characters and make this all the more enticing.
Each chapter of this superbly crafted book contains multiple *moments in history,* events that intersected with the political strategy and shaped this country's development. It is also a character study of ambition, courage, greed, inexperience and bad decisions, all set on the grand stage of the beautiful and treacherous, still uncharted, American Northwest. On the heels of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (just 2 years prior) one of the country's wealthiest businessmen, John Jacob Astor, schemed to corner the hungry global fur market by establishing a trading post on the west coast of the continent, thereby harvesting the untapped resources of the Pacific Northwest. *[from his NY base, Astor was already trading heavily with a demanding China and Europe. It was an extremely lucrative business for Astor. His company was trading *trinkets and beads* to several Indian tribes for pallets of furs worth thousands of dollars -- at a "2,500% profit."]
Encouraged by Jefferson, who dreamed of claiming the country after Lewis & Clark's report, and expanding America from coast to coast, Astor financed 2 expeditions: by sea, the 94 ft. 290 ton, copper-hulled Merchant ship, the Tonquin, captained by a seasoned but arrogant, US Navy lieutenant, Jonathan Thorn; and a land expedition led by fur-trader businessman, Wilson Hunt Price. Though inexperienced, and it can now be added ignorant, Hunt planned to use information gathered from the Lewis & Clark Expedition to lead his group west to the mouth of the Columbia River. 340 days later, the two groups would meet at their destination...but, both journeys had been ill-fated. 61 men had perished (also an infant child born on the trek) or had suffered physical and psychological traumas, the Tonquin lay at the bottom of the Clayoquot Sound, and eventually, the weary survivors sold out to the Canadian North West Fur Company for pennies on Astor's dollars.
Stark has done an outstanding job researching journals, letters, articles, interviewing descendants of the explorers, and studying the different cultures of the Native American tribes that inhabited the landscape of the American Northwest -- a culture that paid the ultimate price of Manifest Destiny. Stark, wonderfully describing the topography along the journey, leads his own expedition in a sense: the passages detailing Hell's Canyon and the "Mad River" (The Snake River) are both beautiful and intense; the vistas of buffalo covered prairie's out of the Dakota's are majestic, and so on. The voyage of the Tonquin is just as eloquently written. Struggling to navigate through the system of bars and shoals at the mouth of the Columbia River, battling the waves, wind, and currents, Stark gives readers a white-knuckle passage through what is known as the *Graveyard of the Pacific.* Often I was left behind, picturing the scenes, in awe of the fury or the serene beauty -- the land seems so raw from what I have experienced... I've safely rafted down the Snake River, looked out across the Badlands, ridden a tugboat through the bucking swells of the Columbia Bar. To look back through history from our hard-won state of comfort is incredible.
The characters are nothing less than fascinating from the robust and colorful French Voyageurs to the quiet, brave interpreter, Maria Dorian [gave birth during the trek]. It would be overwhelming to highlight every stunning aspect of this book, or encapsulate such a huge and important adventure into paragraphs. The epilogue is the eye of history looking back over the expedition and wrapping it all up nicely for a great conclusion. This is a read I recommend highly to anyone, and an absolute *don't miss* for history fans. I would also recommend reading Undaunted Courage by Stephen E. Ambrose, if you haven't read about Lewis and Clark.
Reading the account of the bear attack, I couldn't help but think of the almost silly slow motion battle between Tristan (Brad Pitt) and the monstrous grizzly bear (Bart the bear) at the end of Legends of the Fall. Apparently the trained stunt bear, Bart, thought the two were just rough housing and the clip had to be tweaked to make it appear the grizzly was the killer that would give Tristan his "good death."
Working for Capt. Andrew Henry as a member of the Rocky Mountain Fur Co., Hugh Glass is sent out scouting the uncharted hostile territory along the tributaries of the Missouri River. The trapper is startled when a pair of frolicking bear cubs tumbles onto his path, their notoriously protective mother just a few yards behind. Faced with a charging mother grizzly, Glass knows that no matter how many bullets he can fire into the animal with his 1822 model rifle, he is facing certain death -- he draws his knife and braces for the blow of a massive paw.
Glass is mortally wounded; Capt. Henry and the trapping party begin to dig his grave. After days of caring for the dying man, Capt. Henry decides he is losing money and time and leaves two men behind to bury the body; a cold-blooded cutthroat John Fitzgerald, and the young Jim Bridger. Seeing hostile Indians nearby, Fitzgerald forces Bridger to leave with him, taking the dying man's weapons as they leave.
Against all odds, Glass does survive, and swears to kill the two men that left him defenseless, to die. Unable to walk, Glass begins his mission of revenge on hands and knees in what is a mind boggling account of survival and perseverance. Author Punke writes a riveting tale in the style of great westerns, based on the true story of Hugh Glass. The supporting characters are diverse and colorful pieces of the American Frontier. I couldn't put the book down (audible talk for couldn't disengage from my ipod) until I finished the story.
As a narrator, Graham did a good job bringing the characters to life. His depiction of young Bridger tended to be jerky and halted, and therefore a little distracting at times, but not enough to spoil the novel for me. For fans of the American Western, you can't go wrong with this piece of absorbing historical fiction.
*[I noticed a publish date of 2002 and found that this has been reprinted. It is probably no coincidence that the movie version is scheduled for release Dec. of 2015, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.]
The saddest story my aching arse....
Ford may have given readers the ultimate *unreliable narrator* in 1915 when he published The Good Soldier. For all of my reading, I don't recall ever coming across a narrator half as guileful, or as entitled, as John Dowell -- or is he so inconceivably dim-witted and naïve the story IS actually sad? There in lies the brilliant pinpoint on which this story is balanced, and masterfully so by author Ford Madox Ford. Though, there was the peer group of his day that would have taken to task anyone that thought the writer *masterful*, or anything other than *unreliable* himself. His own *wife* -- or should we say biga-mistress (seems Ford didn't have any problem *marrying* or carrying on affairs in spite of his legal marriage to another never being dissolved) wrote that Ford had "a genius for creating confusion," and he himself stated that,"he had a great contempt for fact." So, it is with that insight to this author that one should approach this story; this is the magic that turns just an OK story into absolute brilliant writing -- and a top notch mystery in disguise that requires an efficient reader.
A wealthy American couple, Dowell and Florence, and a wealthy English couple, Edward and Leonora meet at a spa during an extended stay in Europe and become friends. Interestingly, Dowell narrates the story directly to the reader/listener, as if it is a tale he was told, "the saddest story I've ever heard in my life." Immediately you assume he was told this story and is just now recounting it to the reader, but as he goes on we learn it is his wife Florence and the Englishman, Edward, that have an affair that leads to her heartbreaking death on her and Dowell's honeymoon.
Dowell's story continues to twist like a hanky wrenching out the tears. But, is it her reported weak heart that killed the young bride...(weak enough that she warns her new husband she is unable to have sex because of her condition) or is it suicide (her medicine bottle smells strongly similar to a particular acid)? So it goes... where nothing is as it first seems, nothing can be taken at face value. The outward grace, the breeding, the money, the passion, blend into a swirl of colors that lose definition and become a muddied mess. Even our narrator repeats often, "I don't know, I don't know!," sharing doubts as to his competence to recall what happened.
The profiles of these characters are intriguing; illuminated by Dowell's shaky perspective they become outrageous, even contrarily uncivilized, extravagant, and completely without principles. I could only conceive of this caliber of persons by reminding myself, "how reliable is this narrator/participant, what hidden agendas, sociopathic befuddlements contort the players and twist this supposedly sad tale?"
If you were a keen-eyed detective taking Dowell's testimony, you would listen carefully to this one...ignore your colleague's protests of his innocence...put a tail on him...watch for those insurance policies, secret bank accounts, more missing bodies of people he crossed paths with...sit back and wait for this Keyser Söze fellow to make a wrong move. Or; did poor Mr. Dowell just tell you, truly, the saddest story you've ever heard...? This is a classic that needs to be read competently to be truly appreciated. If so, you'll see The Good Soldier draws out the kind of reader participation, where the text is "open to the greatest variety of independent interpretation" -- what Barthes said was the *ideal text.* Gosh, what a masterpiece; if I wasn't so disgusted by the whole lot of them, I'd turn around and read this again, right now.
“It was a summer in which death, in visitation, assumed many forms. Accident. Nature. Suicide. Murder. I still spend a lot of time thinking about the events of that summer. About the terrible price of wisdom. The awful grace of God.”
Frank Drum begins his story, looking back over forty years to this fateful summer in 1961 when he was 13 yrs. old. The story is immediately familiar and the nostalgia consuming. Krueger writes poetically, creating an idyllic summer so vividly the years tick backwards. For many it will recall that well-known coming of age through tragedy, Stephen King's The Body (movie: Stand By Me). There are similarities, but Krueger's story is a murder mystery tucked into a gentle and sweet tale, focused on family, small town secrets, and spiritual struggles, more than the physical threats of big brothers, dead bodies, and junk-yard dogs.
In addition to being a New York Times Bestseller, Ordinary Grace recently won the 2014 Edgar Award For Best Novel, the 2014 Dilys Award, and has been selected as a *School Library Journal Best Book Of 2013. I'm not familiar with the author's Cork O'Connor series and can't speak to any comparison, but I found this book completely charming and captivating. Krueger's ability to create a soothing kindness through his choice of words, even in the midst of violence, death, and some (mild) sexual encounters, is remarkable. The novel deals with a multitude of *delicate* issues with frankness and compassion instead of sensationalism. Moments like the Reverend's sermon after a death (I won't spoil it by divulging the victim) are healing balms, so beautifully written they are all the *church* you could hope for.
There are some stereotypes and clichés, some sentimentality, but it all seems fresh and original, they are so well used, and so much a part of the period. You may see the ending coming, may figure out the murderer, may even question little brother Jake's keen insight, but any concerns are lost in the overall beauty and grace of this novel. It may not be the block buster everyone is talking about, but for me it was a pure pleasure reading this novel; one of my favorites of 2014.
**The School Library Journal is a monthly magazine with articles and reviews for school librarians, media specialists, and public librarians who work with young people. They have this book listed as an "Adult Books 4 Teens." I would say use your own discretion.
After a near death collision in 2011, Iles has struggled back to give readers what he says is the *first of a trilogy,* the very ambitious Natchez Burning. From what little I've read about his accident it seems a miracle the author made this return. It's good to know that Iles is recuperating well and will continue to write. Whether or not I'll continue to read...I'm still uncertain. The word *trilogy* attached to this 800 page behemoth has me feeling like someone just offered me a piece of pie after I just finished a pie eating contest.
I've liked this author's previous books and especially found his portrayal of Mississippi seductive. Though his novels are consistently heavy on the violence, the morality of Penn Cage and his dedication to family, truth, and justice, as well as his love for the South, have always kept me wanting to return. Natchez Burning was the first of his books that I've had to force myself to continue. Substantial in both page count and story, Iles has over achieved in ways, and may have sacrificed some of the important points he is trying to make regarding the racial history of the American South. In comparison with the previous Iles novels I've read, this one was poorly edited (very poorly edited), congested with an overabundance of psychopathic sadists, and stuffed with pointless digressions and repetition, repetition, repetition. For me, much of the book seemed implausible, and the focus drifted from the civil unrest of the South that I was interested in following, to the gratuitous violence of Iles' characterizations of vitriolic *good 'ol boys* in white hoods.
Dick Hill has always been as much of the Iles novels as Will Patton is James Lee Burke, Ray Porter and Jonathan Mayberry...but I came to accept Ledoux, more than I accepted this work of Iles. There is a good and entertaining story here, but in so many ways, this was not the Iles I'm used to. Sadly, not up to my expectations.
I find myself in the latter group, because this is how I like my King...it's familiar, smart and layered, the product of a storytelling virtuoso. It reads tight, flows enjoyably without a bump, and whether you are actively searching for the infamous King-style Easter Eggs or just perched on the edge of your seat waiting for the inevitable terror ala King to hit, it is captivating. I for one, liked the slow steady crank -- I know King is like a sinister jack-in-the-box with a cozy style that lulls you into near-complacency...then POW! it sinks its teeth into you. But, I understand well why some listeners/readers found the story "slow" or did not like the ending.
Though this is one of King's shorter novels, it takes its time building those goose bumps. The eerie opening scene is a foreshadowing of the relationship between Preacher Charlie Jacobs and Jamie Morton. Jamie's once idyllic life stumbles into disillusion, sex, drugs, and rock & roll. The Preacher suffers a devastating loss, gives a damning sermon which ends his career in the Methodist ministry, then undergoes a malevolent transformation. Their paths serpentine through the years, with each meeting the pair seem to have added layers of corruption and ugliness -- the kind of disfiguration of the soul the supernatural portrait of young Dorian Gray collected hidden in his secret room. In a sense Jamie sold his soul to the devilish preacher at one point in his life, and there is a contractual bond between the two. King doesn't elaborate on the many incarnations of ex-preacher Jacobs (from minister to carnie to tent revivalist), the bulk of the book is devoted to Jamie and his life of guitars and rock and roll until the electrically charged ending (literally: homage to Frankenstein, and a healthy aside to King's passion for rock and roll). Though you may think this makes for a "slow" read, or a loosening of the plot, I felt the story remained tight and threatening, with a lurking sense of tension always building. I participated by keeping mental track of Jacobs, creating his evolution myself from the crumbs King throws in periodically.
Central to the overall nightmarish feel of this book is the *Dedication* by King, which if you have the book you will know reads as follows:
"This book is for some of the people who built my house: Mary Shelley, Bram Stoker, H. P. Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, Donald Wandrei, Fritz Leiber, August Derleth, Shirley Jackson, Robert Bloch, Peter Straub, And ATHUR MACHEN, whose short novel The great God Pan has haunted me all my life."
A rich flavor pallet for fans of horror and a recipe for certain nightmares. The book will strike a strong Yagsafarian, or Cthulhu Mythos flavor, with a vigorous nod to Lovecraft by the time you finish, but it is the work of the all capped MACHEN that King echoes most in this novel, specifically The Great God Pan. [*you can download this short story free of charge at Gutenberg Project site.] What is it with King and bugs...ants? The answer may lie with his youthful years spent reading the likes of these horror heavyweights, definitely Lovecraft and Machen--'nuf said lest I spoil the last page.
To me this was a *thinker,* a foundation-shaker that had me examining these characters, science, religion, loss and extreme sorrow, and at what point our personal constructs shake and finally crumble. I won't say it is old-form-King. I think he has given readers different facets of his creative mind over the years that highlight his own growing pains and artistic expression (whether readers liked it or not), but I will say it felt like kicking off a pair of 5" heels and throwing on your favorite comfy slippers. It is less about the horror of antique collecting vampires on your block, sinister clowns hiding in the drainage systems, and more about the kind of terror we might feel faced with the death of our scientific *facts,* the disintegration of our *faith.* It's like going down the stairs in the dark, thinking you feel that secure bottom stair under your foot, but stepping into an abyss. Not my very fave King, but one of them; a good entry, and the best in a while.
And, a Post Script of sorts to fellow readers that ponder, dwell, dissect, perseverate...What direction does this story go for you if the Shelley-infused Jacob's first *patient* was actually his wife and little boy (hello Pet Semetary)???
Because I am a klutz with crutches, I've had to "stay off that foot", so I've read enough print novels to blister my thumbs and listened to less audiobooks lately. Once I could navigate the 3 floors to my computer, I decided to review only a few of those novels, and that The Paying Guests would be first--with apologies to several GR friends that recommended the book to me. With multiple 5* ratings, an author that "has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction," as well as earned a 3-time Man Booker Shortlist seat, this one has a *triple-dog-dare-you* not to find the novel magical. Well; I didn't, and I take umbrage at novels that sell themselves as one thing, when they textualize something quite different.
This is not historical fiction, not, not, not. There is more feel for post WWI London in the summary than in the novel; there is no sense of the politics of 1920's London, the social atmosphere, the changing economics as Britain began its decline as a world power and women rose to a position of more social power. What Waters did was a trending tactic...take a timely social issue from today and place it in the context of another era in history. I did not say immerse it, because this *issue* sits atop 1920 London like a drop of oil on water. She did not blend in any facts or knowledge that expand on that London. The paying Guests is simply (and more accurately) a lesbian love affair. The lovers are dressed in costume and dropped in London -- there's your hx. Change the costumes...change the historical time...voila! another *historical* novel. The history, what little there is, is foggier than a November morning in London.
This is the third such novel I've read recently, where there is no accurate description, or mention in the summary of the actual content other than: *forbidden love* that will *disrupt* society and families, or in this case: "the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances' life - or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be." *-sigh-* Haven't we advanced enough socially to just call it what it is?! Just say it...lesbian love affair--or just love affair if you prefer. This is a lesbian love affair set in London sometime after WWI. The history, in the context of this book, seems irrelevant, or at least contrived.
Now, it is a different book to rate and would probably get a better review from me because I had a knowledgeable choice of what I was getting. But putting a fictional love affair in period piece costumes and calling it historical is a ruse and I slash points for that kind of tactic. Good grief, call it what it is and stop blindsiding readers with these tales of !shocking! forbidden love that aren't so shocking or forbidden. I understand such a love affair would be eyebrow raising in any period of history (including 2014 to some people), and if I want to read that, I expect to read that in the summary and make that choice.
So, buy the book if you want to read about a lesbian love affair set in London circa 1920. It is narrated superbly and is an interesting story of two women falling in love during some period is time when it was difficult... It is also an example of attempted sensationalism... (but not history). For a great historical novel I highly recommend Lovers at the Chameleon Club. Perhaps it was reading that superior novel of historical fiction that in comparison, made The Paying Guests seem so vacant.
Other than a few great card tricks (and some drink recipes that sound intoxicatingly good) NPH doesn't have much up his sleeve these days since coming out of the closet in '06. Anyone with a TV is familiar with the former child actor Dr. Doogie and has seen his successful transitions to adult actor, Broadway star, multi-talented host and entertainer, and committed partner and parent (absolutely darling twins, you should look up their yearly Halloween photos!). It's clear that in a relatively un-tumultuous life (by Hollywood showbiz standards) the guy has had a pretty smooth trip chasing his destiny toward the big bright lights. He's kept his cute little boyish nose clean, side stepped a few bad reviews to keep plugging away, and stayed pretty steady.
So, keeping it all humble... what could possibly carry the autobiography of an actor that has only lived 40 something years...without a drug addiction, reality show, or other scandal or dark deed featured on a magazine cover in the checkout line at the grocery store? Wait for it...showmanship, gratitude, and pizzazz in spades. Harris is even entertaining in print; funny enough to laugh hard at himself, down to earth enough to talk about the humility of being able to be a parent, and real enough to express the love he has realized by having his own family.
Sure it's largely gimmicky owing to the format--but this is personal revelation and show biz at it's most fun. The magic tricks alone sound worth the practice to awe your family and friends; the drinks good enough to make a few trips to the liquor store; and the instructions and recipes are PDF included!! (And I howled out loud with laughter when David disappeared off the edge of the mountain while they were...read and find out--this is very funny stuff, I'm laughing again right now!) Like a Broadway show itself; fun entertaining book--and don't miss the PDF download. Sometimes it's nice to hear from a person that could have anything, that family and friends matter most.
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